Ross Mackenzie

Whenever giving major thanks, the fear is to leave someone -- or something -- out.

Around our table for a number of years we've had a toast of thanks that goes like this:

"For food and friends and family,

"For life and love and liberty,

"For all the things you've given me --

"Great God in Heaven, we thank thee."

It's dismissible as almost a ditty, almost a cliche. But we like it, even though it leaves out a key ingredient -- America, this oh-so-sweet land of liberty so blessed as it is with such amazing grace.

RANKING high among our duties as parents and grandparents is the charge to pass along the value of heritage, the goodness of family, the honor of country that simply is family writ large. Our people constitute a national family -- a national community, a national neighborhood, a national fellowship (of the ring?) -- boasting strains disparate and weird. Yet they are our strains and (mostly) comforting.

Say America loud and there's music playing (Kate Smith belting out "God Bless America," sending chills up the spine; Lee Greenwood and his rollicking "Proud to Be an American"; Sousa marches.

Say America soft and it's almost like praying ("this is my country," "above the fruited plain," "land that I love," "in the beauty of the lilies," "let us die to make men free").

Country is but music with melody on a national scale -- often, possibly too often, cacophonous melody, but melody still.

PRO PATRIA -- for country....

Maybe the Thanksgiving table is just the right venue to explain to the young that patriotism is OK, because it is.

It's OK to be proud of one's country and its people; never mind the prattlings of cynics dismissive of patriotic zeal. It's OK to be proud of this beauteous land, proud of its values, proud of its generosity in being first with the most to disaster sites. Proud of its men's and women's willingness to stand as sentinels against injustice and to put their lives on the line for freedom across the globe.

It's OK to agree with Stephen Decatur's toast nearly two centuries ago: "Our country...may she always be in the right, but right or wrong, our country!"

And it's OK to gasp in awe at Nathan Hale's noble lament 40 years earlier, the noose around his neck: "My only regret is that I have but one life to lose for my country." He understood, even then, that this is a land to die for.

IN THE words of the happy rhythmic chant, we are family. What words possibly could be more embracingly familial than -- regarding an American -- "He (or she) is one of us"?

Ross Mackenzie

Ross Mackenzie lives with his wife and Labrador retriever in the woods west of Richmond, Virginia. They have two grown sons, both Naval officers.

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